Meliora Is Elevated, Approachable

Good Bite

Pictured: Meliora offers an abundance of globally inspired fall flavors and a variety of small and larger dishes. Photo courtesy of Meliora.

When some people hear “small plates” and “elevated” as restaurant descriptors, there’s a certain connotation. Those of us with formidable appetites may envision an inevitable stop at McDonald’s on the way home to fill the gaps left by tweezer-manicured plates full of alien ingredients that lack substance. Not the case at Meliora.

This Hillview Street hotspot is approachable, fun, a celebration of flavor that doesn’t overly rely on gimmicky molecular gastronomy tricks. The interior is a picture of minimalist class and sophistication. A trip to the bathroom, however, takes you through a graffitied hallway that reminds you that the very definition of fine dining is evolving before our eyes. The crowd was hip, skewing younger. A man in a tailored suit and his similarly well-dressed date sat next to a couple in trendy T-shirts and jeans. And the food? Meliora brings it. The menu is simple: Small, shareable plates with a couple of larger entrees. It’s divided between a hot and cold side, and we opted for two smaller plates from each side and a shareable entree.

The Japanese milk bread is served black thanks to, I assume, the charcoal powder that many Hokkaido recipes require. The Maitake mushrooms with cauliflower mousseline and tamari was a smoky surprise that was heartier than it should have been. Our goat milk ricotta looked like an advertisement from the Whole Foods produce section. I lost count of how many fruits and veggie varieties it came with (radishes, beets, heirloom carrots, pears, to name a few), each a perfect complement for dipping.

For us, there were two standout stars to the meal: The gnocchi and the Rohan duck.

If Sarasota held a pillowiest gnocchi contest, Meliora would be untouchable. The gnocchi themselves are exceptional, but it’s the parmesan cream sauce and a dehydrated brown butter crunch on top that take this dish far beyond the conventional. According to Executive Chef/Owner Drew Adams, "The main reason our gnocchi is light and airy is because we do not use eggs in the recipe, only potato and flour. It's the Parmesan cream sauce that ties everything all together!"

And the duck! The roasted leg and breast cuts were perfectly cooked, served with a side of kimchi, scallions, and Hoisin sauce, creating a DYI bao kit that was unrelentingly flavorful — crunch, roasty, tangy and sweet in every single bite. "The bao buns are made in house every day by our chefs," says Adams. "The duck dish is one of our most labor intensive dishes as every component of the dish is made in house. Many steps go into preparing the dish and if one is missed or not done properly the whole duck is ruined."

We capped our night with a jaunt south to check out Dive Wine & Spirits on Clark Road. Walk through what looks like a standard strip mall liquor store to the back and you’ll find yourself in one of Sarasota’s sleekest bars. The cocktails are clever, the atmosphere is super cool.

And no, we didn’t need to stop at McDonald’s on our way home.

Meliora, 920 Hillview St., Sarasota, (941) 444-7692, meliorarestaurant.com.

Pictured: Meliora offers an abundance of globally inspired fall flavors and a variety of small and larger dishes. Photo courtesy of Meliora.

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